NFU president Peter Kendall has written to members to confirm the start of the pilot cull in Somerset, with the cull in Gloucestershire expected to begin later this week.
The president of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has confirmed the first of the pilot badger culls has begun today (August 27, 2013) in Somerset.
In a letter to members, president Peter Kendall called the pilots – which will see around 5,000 badgers in Somerset and Gloucestershire killed over the next six weeks in an attempt to control bovine tuberculosis (bTB) – “an important step” for both cattle farmers and the entire farming industry.
“I know many of you reading this will have suffered the misery of dealing with bTB on farm – some of you for decades – and I hope now you will feel something is finally being done to stem the cycle of infection between cattle and badgers,” he said.
“We cannot go on culling tens of thousands of cattle every year because of bTB while knowing the disease exists in wildlife uncontrolled.
“It is why the NFU will be working with the pilot companies to ensure the successful delivery of these pilot culls over the coming weeks.”
According to Defra, more than 28,000 cattle were slaughtered in England in 2012 due to bTB, with new incidents of the disease increasing from 1,075 in 1996 to 5,171 in 2012.
Defending the cull, environment secretary Owen Paterson said: “BTB is an infectious disease that is spreading across the country and devastating our cattle and dairy industries.
“We know that despite the strict controls we already have in place, we won’t get on top of this terrible disease until we start dealing with the infection in badgers as well as in cattle. That’s the clear lesson from Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland and the US.
“That is why these pilot culls are so important. We have to use every tool in the box because bTB is so difficult to eradicate and it is spreading rapidly.
“If we had a workable vaccine we would use it. A badger vaccine would have no effect on the high proportion of sick badgers in TB hotspots who would continue to spread the disease. We are working on new badger and cattle vaccines but they are years away from being ready and we cannot afford to wait while bTB gets worse.”
The RSPCA, meanwhile, has said it is “saddened” to see the cull go ahead.
The charity’s chief executive Gavin Grant said: “The most tragic thing is that this suffering is so needless. Science has shown that this cull is not the answer to bovine TB in cattle. In fact, it could make things a lot worse. Vaccination and better bio-security are the only sustainable and true ways forward.”
It is understood the cull in Gloucestershire will start later this week. Mr Kendall said the NFU would “continue to explain” the importance of badger control in tackling the spread of bTB to the public.